Jesus went over to her and, taking her by the hand, raised her up, and the fever left her. She then took care of their needs. . . . Very early the next morning, before dawn, he got up and left the house. He then departed for a deserted place, and there spent time in prayer.
Mark 1: 31, 35
As a disciple of Jesus Christ,
you are called to follow in His footsteps and minister God’s healing touch of love, through word and deed,
to all whom you meet
in your journey of life.
Xaverian Fundamental Principles
We have just finished celebrating the Incarnation and have now entered into what we call “ordinary time.” The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus, whom the author sees as the “high priest” who mediates between God and the world, lives and suffers, in every way, our human condition. God is with us in every aspect of our life, in every atom of our world.
The scandal of the scribes and pharisees is that those who are meant to be pointers to God cannot recognize God among them. Their power and privilege in their society has beclouded their vision and call. They put and keep God and others at a distance so that they can occupy the central place in their own lives and in their worlds. They suffer from the great sin of “clericalism” that Pope Francis so decries in our own church.
Jesus, on the other hand, is close to life. He goes over to Peter’s mother-in-law and takes her by the hand. Many years ago, I lived with a young and very talented confrere. He was artistically gifted, highly intelligent, and very generous and sincere. Yet, he lived a constant struggle with his life and especially with his celibacy. He could not seem to become comfortable with his own body, and this would lead to conflicts in his relationships. He would become very moody when others did not respond to him in the ways he needed. He was at once a person clearly in need of greater intimacy but who would, in apparent contradiction, keep others at a distance through hyper-rationality and intellectualization. He would push people away and then become angry at their distance.
After but a few years in the community, he withdrew and entered nursing. Almost immediately he began to flourish as a person. In the course of his life, he has done extraordinary things both clinically with patients and as a researcher. I have not retained contact with him, but I have also suspected that it was the possibility and reality of human touch that changed his life. By entering a work where he could care for people and make physical contact with them, he released in himself the power of healing in his longing for closeness and intimacy. The love and care within him could now be shared with and passed on to others.
With Peter’s mother-in-law as throughout the gospels, Jesus heals by touching. The effect of that touch creates healing and empowers mission. Peter’s mother-in-law, having been touched and healed by Jesus, in turn “took care of their needs.” As she has been touched, so she touches the world. We live because of the touch of others. From our beginning our mothers, then our fathers, then others touched and held us in love. If others had not been willing to make contact with us, to be close to us and the life we carry, we would not continue to be. God’s act of creation and God’s gift of Incarnation are essentially acts of intimacy. Love and ministry cannot occur from a distance. God’s life comes to us and is shared through us when we touch each other.
When Jesus leaves the house and goes to a deserted place to pray, he is not avoiding intimacy; he is deepening it. My former confrere became distant from others because he was distant from himself. The affects and needs of his own body frightened him, and so he took refuge in isolation and rationalization. His moods and frustrations kept calling him back to himself, but he was, for a long time and as many of us, unable to recognize the call. We become instruments of God’s presence and love through our presence to others. Yet, we cannot be present to others without being present to ourselves and allowing God to touch us. Even Jesus cannot continue his mission of healing and preaching without detaching and going to a deserted place to pray. He learns how to be and how to serve in those times of focal presence to His Father in which he can lay aside the demands of social presence and performance and be simply and vulnerably present as he is to God.
God can seem absent to us because God, as an idea and especially as our idea, is distant. Yet when we are touched by God we know, with St. Augustine, that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Then, as Peter’s mother-in-law we rise in gratitude for the gift of our life and work; we speak and act in such a way as to give that gift away by touching others. We cannot do this, however, at a distance. Jesus takes on our very life. He doesn’t send his love and grace from a heavenly perch. In Jesus, the Word becomes flesh. As we grow in union with God, our flesh becomes Word, or perhaps better put, we come to know ourselves as Word. We are gift, and to realize this is to live in gratitude. And gratitude is an action, the action of love. As Jesus “must’ come to the house of Zaccheus, and must heal Peter’s mother-in-law, so we must touch our world with the gift we have been given. It is our life as received from God that is our “healing touch of love” to and for the world.
If only there were stillness, full, complete.
If all the random and approximate
were muted, with neighbors’ laughter, for your sake,
and if the clamor that my senses make
did not confound the vigil I would keep—
Then in a thousandfold thought I could think
you out, even to your utmost brink,
and (while a smile endures) possess you, giving
you away, as though I were but giving thanks,
to all the living.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Poems From The Book of Hours,
trans. Babette Deutsch